Split in the Parsi Parivar


June 1, 2006

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WHEN Anju Dawar, a Parsi lawyer based in Ahmedabad married a colleague, she was expelled from the community. ”At best her husband will convert but will this not dilute the very essence of the religion?” asks her father, R Dawar.

Air hostess Feroza who married a pilot in Mumbai too was expelled from the community but when her husband died a few months ago in an accident, her parents in Ahmedabad reluctantly accepted her and her children as Parsis. Others are not that accommodating. ”We cannot accept the children of our girls who marry outside the community,” says F H Kavina, a trustee with the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat.

This is a question that has created a rift that’s pitted Mumbai against Ahmedabad. The Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat claims the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India, the governing body of the Parsi Panchayats across the country, is thrusting its reformist agenda on the entire Parsi community.

The clash between the ‘reformist’ Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) and its allied panchayats from Delhi, Madras, Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Jamshedpur and some fifty ‘traditionalist’ panchayats of which Gujarat has a majority, goes back to a December 2004 meeting of the Panchayats at Thane. At the meeting the ‘reformist’ Panchayats initiated a change in the century-old Parsi Constitution by bringing in a new voting pattern in the Federation. This, the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat, believes will leave Gujarati and other ‘traditional’ Parsis in minority.

The major reformist agenda includes legalising adoption and accepting children of Parsi girls who are married to non-Parisis, a move many say can increase the Parsi population . ”But we have told the reformists in no uncertain terms that we won’t allow this,” says Areez Khambatta, president of the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat.

At the Federation meet in Thane, Khambatta, who is also the vice-president of the Federation, came out heavily against the organisation’s proposal to change their constitution.

”The current voting pattern at the federation is one vote per panchayat. While the number of panchayats in Gujarat is large, the number of Parsis is relatively fewer. The new voting pattern will reduce us into minority,” says Khambatta.

Navsari in south Gujarat has the largest number of Parsis–about 7,000. Surat comes second with 4,500. Valsad has 3,000 Parsis while Ahmedabad and Vadodara have 1,900 and 1,100. And while Parsis in Gujarat are somewhere between 15,000 to 18,000, the number is about 45,000 in Mumbai and 12,000 in Pune.

Khambatta was instrumental in setting up the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthostis (WAPIZ) that turns a year old today. This body is leading Parsis across the state in the war against the reformists. Then there are other ways by which the state’s ‘traditionalist’ Parsis are hitting out against the ‘reformists.’

”We are beginning a rehabilitation programme for older and weaker Parsis across the state,” says Khambatta.

Encouraging the young of the community to mix among themselves, the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat is also actively arranging marriage meets. More war tactics may soon emerge.

Original article here